Ponytail Physics or Cosmo, Stay the Hell Out of My Science

Prepare yourself for some pretentious fuckery in this post, galleons, because I’m well aware of what a douche I’m about to be… and that’s not really stopping me from continuing down this path.

Now, I’m well aware that science should constantly be investigating and explaining the world around us. No area should be too small, too insignificant (particle physicists, can I get an amen?). I know this. And yet, with the mysteries of quantum physics and disease and interstellar phenomena looming over us, with bright pathways leading toward technological marvels and biological “miracles”… I have to ask…

Ponytails? Fucking really?

That’s right. A recent study out of the University of Cambridge has focused on that supposedly simple hairstyle as a subject of complex physics.

I guess I’ve noticed that not all ponytails seem to be created equal. There are sleek ponytails, curly ponytails, ponytails that flip out at the end, ponytails that fan and frizz out, ponytails that curl under. Some arc upward jauntily, some hand limply. I always just assumed it was just how they were styled, some secret tricks known to girls who care about things like what eyeshadow compliments their eye color best and what styles are “in” this season.

So, you know, girls who are not me.

Apparently, though, I should have been paying more attention to ponytails instead of just letting my gaze drift over them like it does 68% of fashion and frippery. Because how a ponytail twists, curls, and falls can apparently be quantified. With physics.

I have no idea why Raymond Goldstein and fellows decided to study ponytails, but I guess it’s not really important. Goldstein and company wanted to be able to determine the exact shape of any given ponytail by simply analyzing a single strand of that person’s hair.

In the end, they found they were able to determine a ponytail’s shape by using something they call the “Rapunzel Number.”1 The Rapunzel Number… honestly, after sifting through the incredibly similar articles floating around regarding this study, I didn’t find a satisfying explanation of just what this was. It seems to be related to the effects of gravity on hair relative to length (whether a ponytail fans/puffs out or hangs down almost vertically), but the exact specifications of this magic ratio don’t seem to be available yet. Anyway, using this Rapunzel Number in conjunction with a measurement of the “springiness” of the hair (its elasticity, density, and curliness), the scientists were able to predict the shape of any ponytail.

The one example I found of how the Rapunzel Number impacts shape measurements was using “springy” hair. A short ponytail of springy hair has a low Rapunzel Number and fans outward, while a longer ponytail of springy hair has a higher Rapunzel Number and hangs down (as gravity overcomes springiness).

“I think we were surprised about the simplicity of this,” Dr. Goldstein said.

I’m sorry, but this still seems like so much bullshit to me. Maybe the science is sound enough (I’m sure different products have a varying impact on “springiness” of hair, which can account for people being able to create different types of ponytails out of the same head of hair), but why the hell would they waste resources on shit like this? It’s not even cool. I mean, I’m totally fine with science for the sake of science, but usually it studies something mildly interesting. Ponytail shape?

Shame on you, science.

Shame on you.

1 “We couldn’t resist,” Dr. Goldstein said. Which makes me want to smack him right across the face.

One response to “Ponytail Physics or Cosmo, Stay the Hell Out of My Science

  1. I just read an article on Yahoo about this and made an attempt to look up what exactly a Rapunzel Number was. I found your article and couldn’t agree with you more. Unbelievable.

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